ORAKAU, SIEGE OF
On 30 March 1864 Colonel Haultain informed General Carey that Maoris were present in force at Orakau, a village about 3 miles south-east of Te Awamutu. When Carey reconnoitred, he found them building a pa on the crown of the slightly rising ground at Rangataua, about 400 yards from the mission church. The earthworks were oblong, about 80 ft by 40 ft, and formed a redoubt with an external trench and high parapet. Inside this was another trench well traversed against an enfilading fire and converted into a series of dugouts for protection against shellfire. The defenders were Waikatos and Ngati Maniapotos, reinforced by a party of 140 from the Tuhoe and related tribes. They were led by Rewi Maniapoto.
Carey planned a threefold attack on the position and dispatched Major Blythe and Captain Blewitt to surround the pa with small forces, while he advanced, more directly, with the main body. At dawn on 31 March the troops were in position, but failed to take the pa by direct assault. Carey then decided to approach it by means of a sap while, at the same time, his infantry were drawn close to prevent the defenders from breaking out. During the afternoon 200 Tuwharetoa, under Te Heuheu Horonuku, were seen on a nearby eminence, but well-directed shellfire discouraged their attempt to relieve the pa. On 1 April Carey received reinforcements and work continued on the sap. Early in the morning on 2 April Carey had one of his six-pounder Armstrong guns moved into the sap to within point-blank range of the earthworks. At noon Sir Duncan Cameron arrived on the field and, being impressed by the defenders' courage, he offered them an opportunity to surrender. Rewi refused and, shortly afterwards, the attack was renewed with grenades and shells. The gun in the sap breached the earthwork and Rewi abandoned the pa. For two hours his party was followed by cavalry; nightfall, however, terminated the pursuit and the survivors escaped.
Maori casualties in the engagement were high. Out of the 300 defenders (men and women), 150 were killed and most of the remainder were wounded. Twenty-six wounded and seven unwounded prisoners were taken in the pa. British casualties, out of a force of 1,474, were, according to the official return, 15 killed and 54 wounded. The attacking force comprised units of the Artillery, Engineers, 12th, 18th, 40th, 65th, and 70th Regiments, together with the Colonial Defence Cavalry, the Militia, and the Forest Rangers, the latter being under Jackson and Von Tempsky.
Little now remains of the Orakau pa because the Kihikihi road runs through the middle of the defences.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.